South Park: The Fractured But Whole was so close to making a difficult but necessary point, but instead it just made a joke. Ubisoft has confirmed that its race-based difficulty slider isn’t actually functional and was simply intended as a joke.
Known for its in-your-face social commentary, South Park has never been afraid to hit a political mark. So it fit the bill when creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker along with developer Ubisoft announced that they would be introducing a slider that changed the colour of your skin based on game difficulty. Some parts of the internet were shocked at this announcement whilst others cheered at the effort to recognise the struggles and adversity People of Colour (POC) go through in day to day life.
In The Fractured But Whole, the game’s difficulty slider changes the colour of your skin based on the level of difficulty you select. For instance, the lighter your character’s complexion, the easier the game, the darker your complexion, the harder the game. Cartman would explain to you “this doesn’t affect combat, just every other aspect of your whole life.” Specifically it was reported to affect how much money you earn and how you’re spoken to during the course of the game. However it now seems that Ubisoft are confirming it was a joke.
In a post by GamesRadar, Ubisoft confirmed that the difficulty slider was just a joke. It doesn’t affect combat difficulty or any other aspect of gameplay difficulty. The slider simply changes the character’s skin tone and is purely cosmetic. Sadly I think Ubisoft and South Park have missed the mark on this one and missed an incredible opportunity. Race is rarely, if ever, addressed in video games. So a race-based difficulty slider would have gone a long way to opening up dialogue about a real issue. Had they actually done this, they could have been bringing an important and key issue to a big audience and force people to engage in the uncomfortable realisation of racial adversity.
Any issues involving race can be uncomfortable, and as such they often don’t get discussed or are deliberately avoided within media. But we shouldn’t avoid real issues, nor should we comment on them from an uneducated or solely nonrepresentational perspective. This is why I asked my dear friend DC McCormick [Queer Blerd Twitch streamer, Bachelor in Social Research and Policy with Honours and 2 Masters] for his opinions from the perspective of a POC.
“CW: ableism, racism & transphobia, I’m not surprised that the things in which socially marginalised people have to deal with is a joke to the creators of South Park. It, as a brand, has been the mouth piece for privileged white TERF dudebros [Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism] for years. While their defenders will say that they make fun of everything, as if it’s some great nihilist platform, their main thing is that ‘it doesn’t offend me then I don’t care and you’re ridiculous for caring about anything.’ Further, the problem with this defence is that only when you care about an issue do you take the time to consider and engage with the nuances and blind spots that occur surrounding that issue. Moreover, comedy, as social commentary, punches up. Too often, the South Park brand punches down and produces and reproduces various dominant marginalising social narratives. Their brand of comedy is just then animated racism, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of bigotry.”
“Because of all this, when the game was first announced to have this, I had no faith in them engaging with the racism issue correctly or it even being a thing. By this only being a cosmetic character change, and not actually changing the gameplay at all, their joke is saying that systematic racism is NOT a thing. Further, it has also been reported that the game allows for you to choose your ‘gender identity’. With their TERF stance, for example see season 9 episode 1 ‘Mr Garrison’s fancy new Vagina’, I have no faith that they will treat this issue with respect. They have also decided to continue their attack on Kanye West with talking about his dead mother in this game. The more and more news I hear about this game, the more and more I know that it’s just the usual South Park dumpster fire. I know that there are some people out there that this is the reason why they continue to patronise South Park. However, this is the very reason why I cancelled them long ago.”
Sadly this isn’t the first time the game has seen controversy or risked potentially losing fans, but in the end time itself will tell if South Park the Fractured But Whole hits the mark with consumers or misses it completely.